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Rising costs force pause on Ashland HS renovations

Costs to complete upgrades to AHS buildings have soared to over $40M since the fall; officials will reassess conditions in six months to a year

Full-scale renovations of Ashland High School will have to wait due to extreme challenges in the labor market brought on by the pandemic.

That was the consensus by members of the school board and district officials, who met earlier this week to discuss the bonding project that would overhaul the humanities and science buildings on campus at 201 S. Mountain Ave.

“You’ve heard it yourself in grocery store conversations — projects all over the nation are facing what we are facing right now,” Steve Mitzel, the district’s executive director of operations, said to school board Chair Eva Skuratowicz. “We just feel like pushing pause for a moment is the appropriate thing to do. That could be a six-month or a 12-month pause and then continue down the line when things improve.”

Mitzel emphasized his remarks were only a recommendation. But after hearing a presentation from a representative from HMK Company, the project manager for the bond, the board agreed with what Mitzel proposed. Members felt some of the proposed changes to AHS could wait in favor of a few piecemeal ones, like Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades, including ramps.

“This is not an easy place to be because there are so many different factors that we have to consider,” Mitzel said. “But I think we’ll get through it. We just have to do it very strategically and be very thoughtful about our approach.”

Skuratowicz noted during the board meeting that she had spoken with a former board member who was behind the last bond measure and currently does a lot of architectural work in California.

“She strongly recommended we pause,” Skuratowicz said. “It was good for me to get independent verification from someone who has a lot of interest in the school district, but isn’t directly connected to all of this.”

“I think at this point, honestly, the menu of options is really helpful but it also feels a little overwhelming to me,” AHS Principal Benjamin Bell said at the meeting. “And I think, right now, going forward with ADA accessible ... and then just kind of waiting and seeing six months from now, a year from now, where we’re at, makes sense.”

Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove told the Mail Tribune the board may make decisions on some of those smaller ticket items at an April 11 meeting.

The renovations to Ashland High School are among seven projects made possible by a bond approved by voters in 2018. In the last few months however, economic challenges brought on by the pandemic have caused bids from firms and vendors to climb from $24.4 million to $40.6 million. The reason, board members stated in a newsletter, was “severe construction labor shortage, materials cost inflation, and supply chain and resource shortages.”

“At this time, we can assure the Ashland community that the Ashland High School bond project will proceed; we will share the details when they are finalized,” the board wrote. “While the path to completion will be different, our high school project will provide safe, accessible and welcoming learning spaces for students and staff.”

In response to the escalating bids, the board held a work session to discuss three potential renovation options. The session resulted in some “a la carte” Mitzel said Monday, so the recommendations presented at the latest meeting were actually more choices than the three initially presented.

When one board member asked whether the district could pay for the suite of ADA upgrades, Mitzel said his team and the contractor, HMK Company, is “comfortable” with going forward. He added, too, that an audit the district is undergoing means the upgrades must get done.

Despite economic headwinds hindering the project, Mitzel assured the board and constituents good things would eventually happen in overhauling AHS.

“Our goal is to make sure we get done all of that project as it was designed,” Mitzel said at the board meeting.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.